Landfall

love-spiralAll of my life, I have never had the experience of being in love with only one person.

There have always been at least two people in my romantic desire field, and sometimes as many as six. But everyone I’ve ever been in a relationship with before now (all of my previous relationships have been very monogamous) has been staunchly anti-polymory, and treated my feelings about it very unkindly. Being now, at last, in two relationships with people who are themselves poly, something just became obvious.

It has literally only just occurred to me that this “stay hidden or be chidden” experience of being polyamorous was just as much a contributor to my PTSS as transphobia and homophobia (and the abuse and bullying stuff) have been.

This is the first time in my life that I’m able to be fully “out” as being in love with more than one person, and to act on it, and to have them respond back wholeheartedly the same way, and it be accepted and rejoiced in by all of us – and I can tell I’m still wary and flinching, expecting anger and punishment for something that’s entirely normal and has always been a part of my experience. Again.

I name this tormentor: polyphobia. I have had partners in the past literally declare me mentally unwell for just having feelings for other people as well as them (even though I never acted on those feelings, having agreed/resigned to monogamy). The relief at being with people who just empathise with and affirm this experience brings up both joy and sorrow.

What a thing.

It’s reminded me of a poem I wrote years ago, which I think I already posted here at some point – but I’m going to do so again. This is for all of us who have been made to fear our true selves. We may look, and love, at last.

Mirror, Mirror

So there’s the great ocean there
And one day, you glance out
Out beyond the land
And you know something bad is coming

Gulls start from the waters, yarring
Bubbles and things rise, float
Stillish seas no longer still
Disturbed sun shatters in sparkles

Something huge
Something terrible
Long ago foretold, long feared
Rising from the very roots

Finally you glimpse it
Dark vast shape surging
Inescapable through the depths
The ocean dances and bows to it

And it breaks through the surface
Looming, menacing
Dripping, encrusted
And it looks at you

And looking into its eyes
You see your scared reflection
And then with fine cloth, and your warm breath
You gently begin to polish it

Consensuality

I’m in two polyamorous romantic relationships (yay me! ahem…) They’re both asexual relationships, but until a month ago, only one of them was.

I finally summoned up the courage to tell the partner I’ve been reluctantly sexual with/for that I couldn’t be that any more. It wasn’t an easy conversation at first, though in the end they made their peace with it – because it had been on the cards since we first got together (I’d always told them I was essentially asexual).

But what clinched it, for both of us in a way, was that after we’d agreed to take sex off the menu at least for the moment, they suggested trying a role-play where they would ask me if I wanted to have sex later, so that I could experience saying no. And what we found was that even in that most supportive of contexts, I still almost can’t.

What I’ve come to realise as a consequence of that conversation is that I don’t think I’ve ever had consensual sex in my life – by which I mean that I can’t actually consent, because (as a consequence of an abusive childhood) in the moment I find it near impossible to withhold consent.

I’ve got no idea what this is going to mean in the long run, but right now it’s very, very liberating to acknowledge that this is a true thing about me, and to have immediate, direct experience to back it up (for those times when I might turn up the self-doubt to 11).

And it’s freed me up into sensuality. I mean, I’ve already been describing myself for a few years as asexual and polysensual – but knowing that the person I’m being sensual with knows that from me, it’s absolutely not going to be foreplay, makes me feel way more safe to express my passionate self sensually instead. 

I still experience a lot of confusion. Being part of a very sexualised society, and having had a very sexualised childhood too, some part of me is strongly inclined to interpret physical intimacy through a sexual lens; I also have a body that does sexual response, though I’ve no desire to act on that. But this is a confusion I understand well enough not to be distressed by it. I’m embracing my consensuality now… 🙂 

Half? Huh?

Well, hello. It’s been a long time.demistrawb

I’ve been busy fielding post-traumatic stress, having EMDR therapy. Oh, and recovering in turn from three bouts of surgery – my main Genital Upcycling Surgery last May, then a failed attempt in July to correct a bad prolapse, and then a second more but not entirely successful attempt to do the same this February past. I’m a little fed up with being sore and incapacitated, to be honest, and rather isolated by my distance from most of my people I care about. I’m looking forward to a time when I’m healed and not awaiting further surgery and can just get on with life. But meanwhile…

I’ve been thinking about my sexuality. For the last year or so, I’ve been identifying my experience as asexuality. People who police asexuality have “encouraged” me to call myself grey-ace, because I do experience sexual attraction, but I have no libido to go with it, and no desire to act on it. Or so I thought.

I’ve recently been having the kind of desire I thought I didn’t have, towards someone I’ve become involved in an asexual romance with. This has caused me to revisit the rich smorgasbord of [a]sexuality labels, to see whether any of them are a better fit now.

Once again, I’ve come across demisexual, and been bothered by it on both a gut and logical level. So I thought I’d have a crack at writing about it here to sort out in my head why the term bothers me.

Now then. Of course it’s already not as simple as all that, because I’m also romantically involved with someone else (because Polyamory) with whom I’m, well, reluctantly sexual on their behalf. To this plot twist, we shall return…

Most definitions of demisexual that I’ve found seem to revolve pretty much around two criteria:
• someone who’s demisexual being/feeling sexual only in the context of a romantic or otherwise intimate relationship, and
• said sexual response being “secondary”, i.e. only responding to the other person’s desire rather than primarily to one’s own.

As someone who’s in the polyamorous situation that I am, this raises an interesting question about sexuality labels in the first place, that has always bothered me. My basic assumption around sexual orientation, for example, has always been that it operates on a person-by-person basis, even if we have tendencies in certain directions. You respond to each person differently. And it seems the same for me around sexuality in general.

I’m in two romantic relationships. In one I’m definitely demisexual according to the aforementioned pair of criteria, but in the other… I’m something else. Because in the other, I’m definitely having a primary sexual response (and have no idea yet whether that’s reciprocated in any way, or whether either/both of us would want to act on that if it were).

So I’m demisexual with one person, and I’m… what? with the other. I’ve decided I need a new label. Heh, this is why there are so many already – because one size never fits all.

What defines my sexuality? That, regardless of whether it’s primary or secondary, for me it only exists in the context of romance. So here’s my shiny new label: pyladeasexual. Pyladea- is a Latin stem meaning simply “romantic”. That works. I’m only sexual (or feel sexual) with people I’m in love with, and sometimes it’s because they want it, and sometimes it’s because I do. Either way, it’s a tricky and tentative business, because abuse history, and because it’s likely I’m also on the Asperger’s spectrum, and for both those reasons have strong responses to physical intimacy.

Stepping back wider than my own stuff, though, there’s a thing that bothers me about the definition of demisexual. Since part of the default definition is this “only in the context of a romantic or otherwise intimate relationship” clause, something doesn’t sit right about calling it demi-.

Does it mean that a secondary sexual response outside of such relationships makes you not demisexual? You never hear of (for example) someone who doesn’t have a primary sex urge, but is willing to be sexual only in casual situations, being described as demisexual.

This implies to me that even asexual/demisexual people treat “full” as opposed to “demi” sexuality as being synonymous with “is able to have casual sex”, which I suspect is a byproduct of our very sexualised society.

There, I’ve finally put my finger on what’s been bothering me – it’s a Golden Mean Fallacy. Buried in the generally accepted definition of demisexual is the assumption that not being up for casual sex is “halfway” between sexuality and asexuality. Pff… I’ll stick with calling myself pyladeasexual – “is sexual (or willing to be so) only where love is involved”.

More blathering from me soon, I hope. Happy Oestre… Oestre-hare

Abstention

[Trigger Warning: medical squicky stuff, sexual abuse references]

This may be uncomfortable reading, but it will be very honest. I’m currently on antibiotics that mess with my mood, so this may also be more dark than it’s meant to be. End of warning.

Three times a day, I have a routine to go through, post-surgery. This involves dilating my neovagina with a narrow stent (a.k.a. a dilator), and then a fatter one, for ten minutes each. The stent in this case is a clear, colourless plastic dildoid thing with a tapered front end, sort of like a giant blunt pencil.

There’s more to this: I have to get set up, which takes about ten minutes (sterile wipes, baby changing mat to lie on, bowl of warm water with antibacterial stuff in, towel, water-based gel, paper kitchen towels — then clean everywhere crotch-related, before dilation). Then after the dilating, I tidy up, and then douche with warm water with iodine stuff in it (after next week, this will just be warm water), clean the stents and douche, dry myself carefully. The whole thing takes about an hour. I listen to music on random shuffle whilst doing the dilating.

So that’s the practical aspect. What I wanted to write about here, though, is the emotional aspect.

It’s been hard to admit this to myself before yesterday, but going through this routine is quite distressing, and I feel resistance to doing it. Yes, this is just partly because I’m still very tired from the surgery, and it’s quite an effort to go through all this (which includes walking down and up a flight of stairs twice each time, as my bathroom is downstairs). But it’s also for two other reasons.

The first is that inserting a stent into what is still essentially a healing wound is uncomfortable, and sometimes painful — and is therefore an abuse penetration trigger. This is hard to bear. Since yesterday, when I let it be true and was lying here with my stent inserted, sobbing my heart out, I was able to embrace the experience, and say to myself “Know this: if you so desire, nobody else is ever going to penetrate you again, ever. This hole is not for that purpose, unless you choose it to be so at some point. That power is solely yours.” Since this, today dilation has been easier, something has shifted, I’m not fighting myself.

The second reason, though, is just plain sorrow. When I was in my teens, I read Triton by Samuel Delany, in which someone in the far future (and on the moon Triton, natch) goes through a complete male-to-female body change (including gene manipulation) in under half an hour, and walks out sore, but essentially completely healed. That’s always been my dream, I suppose, but what I’m going through is a much more involved and medicalised experience, with pain and slow healing. But the worst part, the saddest part, is that every time I dilate, I’m reminded that because of a quirk of fate and prenatal hormones (or whatever the fuck made this happen), here I am trying on a daily basis to persuade my body not to heal up this artificial hole that I’ve had to have sculpted, because my body came out wrong.

I have something which, a few months from now when all the mad swelling has gone down, will pretty closely resemble a vagina, and that’s amazing. But it’s also an artifice that in many ways will never behave like a real vagina, and my body will require (less and less constant, it’s true) persuasion for the rest of my life to keep it how it should be.

Let me be clear: I’m really happy to have this, my body feels much more congruous and complete than it ever has, but I’ll always have to live with that sorrow too. So it is. I expect as we become more accustomed to each other, and all the healing happens, and I can live more normally and not spend three hours of every day persuading my body not to reject its new configuration, I will feel much more ease around all this. I’ll probably eventually forget about it for stretches of time, and that’ll be good. I just want to honour, right now, what I’m feeling right now about it — because the Post-Op Transwoman Bible™ says Thou Shalt Only Be Seen To Rejoice, and I want all my voices to be heard.

Oh, and fuckin’ antibiotics, if I never have to take them again it’ll be too soon.

By the way, the stent is named after some dentist who invented them. I was expecting some connexion with Stentor, the mythical singer who died after losing a singing competition with Hermes. But I like that abstention has “stent” in it, since it reflects my inner desire to abstain from dilation, and my need to let these stentorian voices sing out and be appreciated.

It amazes and amazes me, how over and over I have to discover that so much of my experienced pain is coming from resisting being conscious of uncomfortable feelings, whether physical or emotional. Let’s be soft out there, folks.

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Endless

[Trigger Warning: there will be some surgical talk here!]

Well, three weeks ago, after a wait of around 30 years, I had my Genital Repurposing Surgery, as I’ve come to call it… I should explain (since this has already been misunderstood by one person) that by this I don’t mean “I intend to employ my genitalia for different sexual purposes now” — since this has never had anything to do with sex. What I mean is that no, my pre-existing genitalia were (mostly) not “cut off”, but simply repurposed — or, as I’m also enjoying saying: upcycled :D. Or in fact, to employ a fun meme, basically my penis got divided by zero…

I’ve been back home for two weeks now, and am slowly finding myself able to move around more — though walking feels like I’m waiting to give birth to a pangolin, it’s definitely doable in short bursts now. I’ve been a little unlucky with some popped sutures, which are going to make healing a slightly more lengthy and involved process, but on the whole I’ve come out if this very well so far. This is the part I’d been waiting for, really; as a non-gendered trans* female, dysphoria has always been about the anatomy for me, more than anything else.

There are a few things I’d like to say, at this point. Some gratitude stuff, for a start. I’m incredibly grateful to live in a country where it’s legal to be trans*, where we have explicit rights, where our medical needs (if we have them, and within certain still rather gender-binary blinkers) are understood and met. My transition was paid for by the NHS, mostly, and that made it possible where it otherwise wouldn’t have been. This surgery took only 2 hours. Extraordinary — this makes it more ordinary, somehow, in a good way. So I’m very grateful to the surgeon and his crack team (heh) for keeping the whole thing as minimum-impact as possible, and to the nursing team who looked after me for the week afterwards, including through a tricky moment when things went a bit wrong.

What the hell, details: after one’s neovagina has been constructed, it is packed for a few days to let it “set” in its new shape, before being unpacked and then regularly dilated instead. For reasons nobody could understand (this had never happened before), my packing came out — so they had to repack it. If you want to know what that was like (I was conscious but on laughing gas for this), imagine trying to stuff a futon into a wine bottle. That’s the closest I can get to describing the experience.

Okay, you can uncross your legs now, no more medical detail. I’d just like to finish up the gratitude part by mentioning my fab girlfriend, who was with me when I had the surgery; my lovely visitors; my friend who drove me home after and stayed the night, and went shopping for me the next day. And myself: I spent two months before the surgery getting what exercise I could, and that’s been making a huge difference to how my recovery is going now, especially in terms if my core muscles.

So that’s all that. What I wanted to also write about, is what this does and doesn’t mean. In the minds of many people (including many trans* people), this must mean I’ve reached my goal, and it’s all over now. But I don’t consider my surgery to be the “end” of my transition. Actually, I have no idea when that will be, or even whether it will be. For a start, pragmatically I have major surgery to recover from, before my upcycled anatomy feels like simply a familiar part if me, rather than a medicalised and painful and puzzling new piece of kit. But seriously, I suspect I will spend the rest of my life still transitioning, discovering what difference this really makes to my experience of myself, and to other people’s experience of me too.

And there’s still way too much emphasis in trans* culture and in the media (and, I have to say, in the healthcare system too) on surgery being the City of Oz of transition. Listen: only some people who identify as trans* go through any obvious transition (and that need not cross any conventionally recognised sex/gender borders anyway), and only some people who transition want surgery to be part of that. I’m sick of the “hierarchy” of non-op < pre-op < post-op that you find on so many trans* forums, for example.

Oh, and I'm so tired of people (and once again, many of the culprits are in the healthcare posse) assuming that once I've recovered from surgery, I'll basically "get well sexually" and stop identifying as more or less asexual. Stop pathologising asexuality, it's so patronising! It's as bad as being a non-theist stuck among smug Christians.

So there it is: as part of my ongoing transition, I've had this surgery, and on it all still goes. Mainly, I look forward to being able to dance again, and releasing this pangolin into the wild.

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Iatrogenocide

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while (excuse the absence of apt and pretty pictures, I’m still flat on my back in hospital, writing this on a wee tablet thingy).

I had a very difficult three months earlier this year, and the fault lies largely at the feet of medication. I spent over a year on Tramadol (an opiate) for pain, whilst waiting for surgery to fix my dodgy urethra, and then spent two months at the start of this year coming off the Tramadol, post-surgery. That all went fine, until I actually stopped taking it altogether – at which point I spent a month having my body flail about uncontrollably every night, like a puppet with St Vitus’ Dance.

And then I was in the run-up to my genital upcycling surgery, and was anxious about getting anxious, since the Tramadol had actually helped with my PTSS symptoms, so I was persuaded to go onto Sertraline (aka Zoloft, Lustral). This is when the hell began. Two months of terror and anxiety and barely being able to go outside the flat. I assumed that this had been caused by a transphobic incident in the town where I live, so it took me two months to listen to my intuition and stop taking the Sertaline – at which point I got better practically overnight.

No more SSRIs for me.

*****

While I’m here, I’ll mention that I’m now halfway through the EMDR therapy (for my PTSS) that I spent 3 years trying to get access to – and it is so worth it. It’s been a very shamanic journey experience for me, and I’ve had some very powerful encounters – especially with the six-year-old girl me, who is ballsy as hell, and who publicly goes by the name Celestine (no kidding – but she has a secret name too).

*****

Anyway, here I am, flat on my back in hospital, and somewhere under all that swaddling is a set of female genitalia that I have yet to see. But my brain still thinks I have the Previous Occupant down there, so it’s going to be a fascinating opportunity to observe how the physical senses are mind-made (or mind-interpreted, anyway). I’ve had arousing thoughts a couple of times, just to see what that felt like, and my brain thinks I have a hard-on. Watch and learn, brain!

Gender’s Game

rainbow-cloud(Hello, I’m back…)

Mm, been a bit of an “interesting” few months, I was very much under the thumb of opiates whilst awaiting what was actually fairly low-level surgery, and couldn’t think straight enough to post.

But trala, here I am, had me little surgery, and then spent two months coming off a maximum dose of opiates (Tramadol) – high dose because it shouldn’t have taken almost a year to get that surgery, and opiates stop working after a wee while and you have to keep upping the dose. So yes, two months reducing the dose and coming off them, and then… WHAM! as soon as I actually stopped taking them, this last month has been a hell of involuntary muscle spasms and cramps in my arms and legs, and not a lot of sleep. Trala.

But this isn’t about that, this is about this.

Oh, wait, before I got to this, there’s that, which that is about, which is that it turns out that Tramadol (and probably other opiates too) are a pretty good cushion against PTSS symptoms. So I’m now living without that net for the first time in a year, and it’s a bit of a bugger. But I’d rather be me off drugs than on them, if I have the choice.

Anyway, this.

As you will know, if you’d been reading my blog-things (and can remember that far back, after such a long lacuna), I’ve been describing my gender identity as an archipelago of different gender-qualities (woman, androgyne, trans man, other) in the greater sea of me.

Well, it’s become recently apparent that this was just a convenient lie. Convenient because with what I was going through (MTF transition, PTSS, chronic pain, etc.) I needed the majority of people in my life to think they knew where I was and who I was and not just stare at me and say “Uh?” So for the sake of all that, and for self-pretection, it seemed true to me at the time; but it ain’t so.

What’s so? The actual truth (for now, for me, at any rate) is that gender makes no sense to me at all. I’m going through an MTF transition because my somatopsyche knows it’s female, and my body needs to get with the programme. But when I really think about gender (and I can actually do that, now that my brain is no longer opiated), it just does literally seem like a mere game. From culture to culture, from subculture to subculture, we’re told from birth “this is how people with these genitalia behave and see themselves, and this is how people with these genitalia behave and see themselves – and no, there’s no Other, just those two.” Well okay, there are cultures tucked away on the planet that allow for more options, but they’re still fairly limited and constructed around the binary Girl/Boy paradigm, generally speaking (so in some places you get to be The Other One, you get to be Both, but there isn’t really anywhere where you get to be Neither – apart from Nepal).

I look at my sense of identity, and I can’t see anything coherent or concrete that looks like what people call gender. All I can see in me (and in everyone else, is how it seems to me) is a vast array of human qualities with the borders between them blurred and edgeless – and then each culture (each subculture) corrals them into sets and says “You be woman-qualities, you be man-qualities” (with, generally speaking, an implication of “heterosexual” in those selections).

I hope by now you’ve noticed that I’m careful to say: this is how I’m experiencing it, seeing it. Because I have no idea what’s going on in anyone else’s head. But it feels and seems to me that gender doesn’t exist, it’s just a rule book for a set of games – and that calling myself woman-androgyne-trans man makes about as much sense to me as describing myself to someone as “Well, I’m sort of part boot, part top hat, and part racing car.”

So this is in equal parts bloody amazing and bloody inconvenient. It’s bloody amazing every time I step closer to a real sense of me, and this feels like a big step in that direction: I don’t have a gender identity, I just have a sex identity (female) that belongs to my somatic body-sense, hence transition. It no longer makes sense to call myself transgender, because no gender – in fact, the academic, narrow definition of transsexual would fit me better, if it weren’t such a nasty word (in my view), because I am in fact transitioning due to a body-sex incongruency.

Oh yes, why is it bloody inconvenient? Because I have to explain it to everyone, and it’s going to make how I identify in the future more hard work. Up until now, it would be honest to say that my interest in getting the X option for UK passports was academic, not personal – I could see its value for other people for whom it was a true thing, being neutral or agender. But now I can see an X in my future, and neutral pronouns, and so on, and that’s hard work. I know it is, because I’ve seen my friends working hard who have already come to this conclusion about themselves ahead of me. Ah well.

If I were forced to describe something about me in terms of “gender identity”, I would describe it as a rainbow-coloured cloud. This comes (for me) from an image in Buddhism of the rainbow-coloured cloud as a symbol of the potential out of which everything happens, and keeps happening, and keeps affecting and being affected by everything else (because it’s all intertwangled). And it’s still a game, something that covers up the clear blue sky out of which it arises, and into which it evanesces, all the time.

But since saying that makes people stare at me and say “Uh?”, I’m now inclined, in fields that ask “What is your gender?” to write “post-gender.”

This is a bit of a problem, because it sounds potentially elitist. But I don’t mean it in a Look at me, I’ve seen through this and you haven’t, nyah nyah way.  I simply mean I used until recently to think I had a gender identity, but now I don’t. Go figure. *shrug* And for the same reasons that I don’t like “assuming a position” by calling myself atheist (I prefer non-theist), I don’t like the term agender as a description of me. I’d really just rather avoid the G word altogether.

There you go. Oh, one more piece of news: I’ll be having my, um, Sex Affirmation Surgery (that’ll have to do as a label) on the 6th of May. I’m very excited about this! I get to be as close to female as is possible in this day and age. But as for woman, man, androgyne, etc., I’ve always felt more like a spoonbill than any of those things, so here’s a very lovely spoonbill for you.

Happy new year(s), by the way. Glad to be back.

spoonbill-cropEnvoi: Ooh, cool – in outing myself as post-gender, I’m outing myself for the ninth time!